Topeka — Kansas Democrats raised concerns Wednesday about how the Republican-controlled Legislature will redraw the state’s political maps to solidify the GOP’s hold on the state’s four U.S. House seats.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, presented a map during public hearings Tuesday and Wednesday that would extend the 1st District from the Colorado line east to the Missouri border, taking in Atchison, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties.
Atchison and Leavenworth counties currently are in the 2nd District represented by Republican Lynn Jenkins, while Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder represents Wyandotte County in the 3rd District.
“There will be all kinds of variations, but I felt compelled to discuss this map early on,” Hensley said. “If it’s not true, let (House Speaker) Mike O’Neal make me a liar.”
Hensley said Republicans would be able to dilute the effect of Democratic votes in congressional elections for the next 10 years by keeping Shawnee, Douglas and Wyandotte counties in separate districts. Douglas is presently split between the 2nd and 3rd districts, with Shawnee and Topeka in the 2nd District.
O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican and chairman of the House committee, said Hensley’s concerns amount to a “conspiracy theory.”
O’Neal said moving Wyandotte County to the 1st District would be difficult to justify and that any speculation is a premature effort to make the process more partisan than necessary.
“That’s a lot of geography involved. It’s all about maps that make sense and do not overtly politicize the situation,” he said. “There’s no need for that. Republicans are in the majority now and will be after.”
O’Neal said the goal is to maintain the one person, one vote principle to stay within the numerical guidelines. Each congressional district is required to have an equal population, which means current boundaries will change to reflect the continued growth in Johnson County and declining populations in rural counties.
“The 1st has to get bigger. The question is who has to give up area and how do they feel about that,” O’Neal said.
Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican and chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, said he had no intention of gerrymandering districts to benefit one party in the next elections. He likens the early sparring over potential maps to a roller derby, where competitors start bumping early in the event, eventually turning into a free-for-all rumble.
“I’m not sure something like that would pass muster with the courts if it were challenged,” Owens said.
States adjust their political boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes based on the census. A provision in the Kansas Constitution also requires it to account for military personnel and students from other states attending college in Kansas.
The secretary of state released revised figures earlier this week, showing the Kansas population at 2,839,445 residents, or 13,673 fewer than the Census figure released earlier in 2011.
Most of those revisions affect Douglas, Riley and Geary counties, which are home to Kansas University, Kansas State University and Fort Riley’s 1st Infantry Division respectively.
Legislators are holding public hearings around the state, gathering opinions about which areas should remain in certain political districts based on common economic, geographic and population traits.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said Wyandotte and Johnson counties share much more in common with each other and neighboring counties in Missouri that comprise the Kansas City metropolitan area. Aligning Kansas City, Kan., a manufacturing community with urban needs, with predominantly rural, agriculture counties in the 1st District, would make little sense, he said.
“I hope people are going to reject these kinds of efforts to gerrymander these districts for political gains,” Davis said.